Battle of the North Cape, 26 December 1943
Battle of the North Cape and the sinking of the Scharnhorst
70 years ago this week, on 26 December 1943, the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst was brought to battle and sunk by the Royal Navy. Scharnhorst had been a thorn in the side of the allies since the outbreak of the war in 1939. In 1940 she sank the armed merchant cruiser Rawlapindi, During the battle for Norway she sank the Aircraft Carrier Glorious and her escorts. In 1941 she threatened the Atlantic Convoys and in 1942 she sailed through the English Channel in broad daylight.
By the winter of 1943 she was operating in Norweigan waters against the Russian Convoys. On 26th December she tried to attack convoy JW55B but instead sailed into a trap set for her by the allies who, with the benefit of the Ultra codebreakers, knew of the plan. The battle was fought in almost complete darkness with the Royal Navy having the benefit of Radar controlled guns. Scharnhorst was overwhelmed and sank in the arctic night.
Last “big gun” engagement in Northern waters
From her crew of 1,968 there were 36 survivors. the allies lost 11 killed. The battle was the last ‘big gun’ engagement ever fought in Northern waters.
HMS Norfolk, was the only Royal Navy ship to fight in both the Bismarck and Scharnhorst battles. She was hampered in the latter by her lack of ‘flashless cordite’ which meant she gave away her position to Scharnhorst whenever she fired. As a result she suffered the most damage and casualties.